Problems involving anger and aggression are common after military deployment, and may involve abnormal responses to threat. This study therefore investigated effects on neural activation related to threat and escapability among veterans with deployment experience. Twenty-seven male veterans with anger and aggression problems (Anger group) and 30 Control veterans performed a virtual predator-task during fMRI measurement. In this task, threat and proximity were manipulated. The distance of cues determined their possibility for escape. Cues signaled impending attack by zooming in towards the participant. If Threat cues, but not Safe cues, reached the participants without being halted by a button press, an aversive noise (105dB scream) was presented. In both the Threat and the Safe condition, closer proximity of the virtual predator resulted in stronger activation in the cuneus in the Anger versus Control group. The results suggest that anger and aggression problems are related to a generalized sensitivity to proximity rather than preparatory processes related to task-contingent aversive stimuli. Anger and aggression problems in natural, dynamically changing environments may be related to an overall heightened vigilance, which is non-adaptively driven by proximity.
Keywords: Aggression; Anger; Military veterans; Proximity; Threat; Virtual Predator; fMRI.
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